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Get Trail Ready

| Buyers Guides, What Mountain Bike | 23/07/2010 09:25am

You’ll soon discover that the advantages of quality kit and cycling gear is now as much fashion as function led.

New materials and inspired designs have provided a wide range of top quality togs and accessories. Even the low cost kit now offers a better comfort and image spec than at any other time, and it’s all far more practical than sawn-off denims, T-shirts and trainers. You’ll hear riders talking of the technical properties of kit, referring to features like cooling properties, breathability and air flow. Some of it is simply successful marketing spiel that’ll make only tiny differences to your overall ride experience, but it’s still worth taking a look at the advances that’ll concern you.

First, a tip for new riders: Don’t wear your normal underwear underneath bike shorts. There are special short liners on the market these days and normal underwear is the curse of the new cyclist. Seams chafe, material gets soggy, things scrunch up and the ride experience becomes unpleasant.

MTB-specific clothing
Mountain biking demands a hell of a lot from clothing. You need to dress appropriately for the conditions and be prepared for the worst. Baggy or loose fitting MTB-specific shorts and tops may be designed to look like street wear, but under duress they perform as well as the best sports clothes. The shorts usually have a liner with a padded insert for increased comfort. Tops are usually made from fabrics designed to wick moisture from the skin and wet weather gear is as breathable as it can be.

If you still prefer figure-hugging Lycra, it’s better than ever these days – almost like a second skin. It’s ideal for long rides and better than baggy clothing in winter. Thermal Lycra-based tights, combined with a long sleeve thermal jersey, are good for cold weather riding and short-sleeved jerseys are fine for warmer conditions. Comfort comes in many forms, but fast-drying material is one of the most crucial factors in all clothing.

Sensible layering of clothing is crucial. Two or three thin layers will always be better than one or two thick ones. Layers of lightweight breathable clothes allow your body to cope with changing conditions. A wicking, fast-drying base layer (vest) is always a good start at any time of the year. Mid or outer layers will obviously depend on weather, but good breathability and wicking properties are still crucial. An outer shell is a good extra, even in the summer. The smaller shell tops will pack down into an insignificant space and can be carried in a waist pack or rucksack. Heavy-duty waterproofs are only really necessary for heavy rain or in the extreme cold.


Gilets, or over-vests are the unsung heroes of bike wear. They’re small and light enough to stuff in a bag or back pocket when not in use, but they’re a great extra layer for cold or wet conditions. They take the chill off your chest and they’re great after stops when you’re sweaty.

Wet and dirt proofing
For really filthy conditions, you need to protect both yourself and your bike from the elements. Crudcatchers (front) and Crudguards (rear) are the best off-road mud deflectors, and you can seriously improve a bike’s ability to survive the filth by using appropriate lubrication, and perhaps fitting Neoprene boots around the head set, exposed fork stanchions and shock cylinder. For yourself, a heavy-duty waterproof, water-resistant socks and tights and shoes (or overshoes) are a useful wardrobe addition. Look for a cycling-specific waterproof with a long back, proper fit and pockets in the right places. Sadly, walking waterproofs don’t perform as well.

Footwear
MTB-specific shoes have very stiff soles with inserts to fit cleats for clip-in pedals (like SPDs – Shimano Pedalling Dynamics), although you can use them without. Stiff-soled shoes, especially when used with clip-in pedals, are a major advantage over normal trainers in terms of the energy you expend going straight towards forward motion. Image wise, modern shoes are looking more like trainers and less like race shoes.

Headwear
Always wear a helmet for off-road riding, even if you’re not a helmet fan. It’s amazing how often we see people with broken helmets, even as a result of the most innocent-looking falls. Immobile as they are, trees, rocks and roots can wreak havoc with your ‘safe line’ choices. It’s worth bearing in mind that helmets are designed to absorb shock. If they have to absorb a shock they’ll be damaged, so they should be replaced after a crash. Get the right fit when buying, because if a helmet doesn’t fit properly, it will slip as soon as you fall, leaving part of your head vulnerable. Spend time trying on different models – we all have different-shaped heads. The padding that comes with helmets is for fine tuning only, so make sure the basic helmet shape is a good fit before you stuff in extra padding.

Check that a helmet conforms to safety standards set by institutes like SNELL or ANSI – this will be marked inside the helmet. The more you pay for a helmet, the more features it’ll have. The coolest helmets, in both image and temperature terms, are often the most costly, naturally.

Handwear
Gloves are almost essential for comfy riding. Short-fingered mitts will protect your hands from the vibration of the trail and potential damage when falling. They’ll also improve your grip when your hands are sweaty and/or muddy. Proper cycling gloves have the padding in the right spots. Finally, make sure gloves are easy to wash, as they get filthy off-road.

Eyewear
Wearing glasses off-road will keep the crud out of your eyes, but some riders find that the build up of sweat on the inside of the lenses makes them difficult to wear in extreme riding situations.

Fixtures and fittings
Once you’ve got your bike – and probably while you’re getting it – you will become aware of the vast array of MTB paraphernalia that people keep telling you that you must acquire. Some stuff is almost essential. Other stuff is simply useful. WMB

Useful tool pack additions
Here are some essential items that are sure to take the stress out of your ride…

  • Zip ties. These are bound to come in handy eventually. Use them to fasten a broken pedal together, tie freewheel sprockets to the spokes when the drive mechanism strips (creating a fixed wheel), fasten kit to the bike when a clip or bolt fails or keep a chainring or jockey wheel in position when it’s lost a bolt.
  • Wire, tape, toestraps. These are also all useful extras that can hold things in place after a breakage (bottle cages, saddle rails, etc.).
  • A rag or Wet Wipes. If you carry out on-trail repairs, it’s good to be able to clean your hands afterwards. Grass or leaves will suffice in most cases, but Wet Wipes are more efficient. A rag can also be used to pad out your tool kit and stop stuff from rattling.
  • Nuts and bolts. If you’re going anywhere that’s not within easy access of civilisation, take a few spare nuts and bolts with you. You never know…
  • Cables. For long tours, extra brake and gear cables may come in useful.

The essential collection
Your bike won’t last very long if you don’t look after it. Get all this stuff while you’re buying the bike. If you don’t, you’ll be begging, stealing and borrowing it from irritated ride partners. The guiding light of mountain biking is self sufficiency. Here’s the gear we recommend:

Pump. Mini pumps are popular among mountain bikers because they’re light and simple to carry in a pack – and many will come with frame attachment clips. Beware of the cheapest ones, though, even the best ones take a while to inflate a tyre and the worst just don’t do the job properly.
Water Bottle or Hydration Pack. If you plan to ride for more than half-an-hour or so, fit at least one water bottle – most MTBs come equipped for two. Many cyclists drink too little liquid, resulting in dehydration and its debilitating effects. Rucksack-based Hydration Packs – like the Camelbak – are popular, particularly among those who ride for more than a couple of hours. Most Camelback-type packs come with pouches for food and accessories.
Tool Pack. There are many ways of carrying tools, food, spares and extra clothing. Pockets are good enough for the lighter weight stuff but most riders will use some sort of pack system. You can choose anything from the absolute solution, a rucksack with a water bladder sleeve, to a waist pack or an under-saddle pack. Most cycling-specific packs come with a useful array of pockets, straps and possibly a mini pump sleeve. Your pack should always contain at least a spare tube, a puncture repair kit, tyre levers, spoke key and enough tools to deal with all minor trail repairs. Many multitools on the market include a chain link splitter.
Lights. Think carefully about what sort of lights you need. If you do a lot of night riding you’ll need to spend a fair amount of money on an upmarket system that allows you to see trails clearly and to be seen to be safe and legal on the road to and from the trail. Even if you’re not really a night rider, it’s useful to have front and rear ‘emergency’ lights for those occasions where you get caught out by evenings closing in. Small flashing lights are not street-legal in all countries, but they’re easy to keep in your trail pack and they’re far safer than nothing at all.

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 23rd, 2010 at 9:25 am and is filed under Buyers Guides, What Mountain Bike. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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